Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Tale of Two Dinners - Apple-Onion Cream Soup

Picture if you will, two mid-50 year olds seated at their desks, backs to each other, facing computer screens, reading, pointing, and clicking their lives away. At some point in the late afternoon to early evening, you might overhear a conversation that runs something like this.

Hub: (spoken with air of feigned total innocence staring at computer screen) "So, Dub! What are we going to do for dinner tonight?".
Sproing! Out pop devil horns and tail which both ignore.
Dub: (pretending not to be annoyed) "Well, I was planning on fixing fill-in-name-of-perfectly-legitimate-idea-for-dinner".
Foot begins to tap, halo is slightly polished by not completely squelched sigh.
Hub: (still staring intently at computer screen) "Really?"
Dub: (tensing slightly) "You don't feel like PerfectlyLegitimateIdea tonight?". "I could fix fill-in-name-of-option-two instead".
Silence....followed by....
more silence except for more pointing and clicking
Dub turns away from computer and faces Hub in his chair.
Dub: "Hub?" "You prefer not to have either of the two (perfectly legitimate!) dishes tonight?" "Did you have something else specific in mind?".
clicking, clicking, clicking....
Hub: "I could.......(interminable pause)....go get something".
clicking, clicking, more clicking

Dub: (fake lightness of tone) "Take out? What did you have in mind? Anything specific?".

Long pause while Dub first pictures herself beating her head on the desk then stands to go look in pantry and refrigerator on off chance food replacement elves have broken into the kitchen and brought miracle ingredient that will result in immediate availability of delicious and appealing dinner for Hub and Dub.

Fast forward 45 to 75 minutes when we find Hub and Dub eating Jack in the Box tacos behind locked doors with all shades drawn. And ENJOYING them, too.

This little scenario plays itself out in variations at least once a month. There is nothing wrong with it really, everybody gets bored with familiar home cooked meals from time to time and there are simply those evenings when nothing sounds good. I totally get that.

The trick is to avoid treating it like a big deal or a moral failing. I get testy because I have a tendency to take it personally when anybody does not like something I have cooked. This is not helpful on my part, we all like what we like. I am in a position of control over what we eat around here because I do the food shopping and the meal preparation for the most part. If I like it we tend to have lots of it on hand. If I do not, then guess what - probably not going to find that in our pantry or refrigerator.

The same can be said for most households. The shopper/chef controls the ingredient flow for the most part. And as I wouldn't want to have to rely on somebody else trying to guess what I'd like night to night for dinner so if they asked me what I wanted and I honestly told them what I did - or more importantly here - did not - want to eat, I would hope that could take place in a "no future recriminations" setting. And on a good day, that is how it works here.

Which is why I had to kick myself last night because when I finally did prepare two dishes I had offered up on nights previous that had been set aside due to a lack of enthusiasm on Hub's part which he turned out to like very much indeed, I could not resist a bit of "told ya so"ing. Just. Could. Not.

The centerpiece of our ToldYaSo dinner last night was an Apple-Onion Cream Soup. This recipe was a gift, shared online in an enewsletter by the friendly folks at Knopf publishing as a hook for Anne Mendelson's newest, "Milk". Quoting from the newsletter: "this month, Knopf celebrates the publication of Milk. Part cookbook—with more than 120 enticing recipes—part culinary history, part inquiry into the evolution of an industry, Milk is a one-of-a-kind book that will forever change the way we think about dairy products."

And maybe it did - change the way they think about dairy I mean - but in this house it changed forever the way my Hub thinks about Apple-Onion Cream Soup. If I offered it to him for dinner now he has had a bowl? I'd find him with napkin in one hand and spoon in the other, wanting only to know "how long until it's ready?".

I only made a half-batch as Hub's dubious initial response to the idea led me to believe it would be better to like it and have none of this rich soup left over than to have too much of it sitting around for me to devour for lunch for 3 days running.

Apple-Onion Cream Soup
Cream soups are best when they have something more than creaminess going for them. A good cold-weather example is this robust sweet-tart combination of apples—use a good local fall variety in season—and onions with some crisp bacon for counterpoint. It's best when made with a strong, full-flavored beef broth.

4 to 6 thick slices of bacon, coarsely diced
3 to 4 tart, juicy apples, pared, quartered, cored, and coarsely diced
4 tablespoons butter
4 large onions, coarsely diced
3 cups good beef broth, or as needed
6 to 8 whole allspice berries, lightly bruised
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
A dash of lemon juice (optional)
1 teaspoon carraway seeds, lightly bruised (optional)

1. Cook the bacon slowly in a heavy skillet to render out all the fat. When it is crisp, scoop it out of the fat and drain on paper towels.
2. Sauté the diced apples over medium heat in the same skillet,stirring occasionally, until cooked through. Scoop out a few spoonfuls of the apples for garnish and set aside.
3. Melt the butter in a large heavy saucepan. When it foams and sizzles, add the chopped onions and sauté very patiently over low heat,stirring frequently, for 15 to 20 minutes, until the onions are well softened and starting to brown. Scoop out a few spoonfuls for garnish and set aside with the reserved apples.
4. Add the rest of the apples to the onions,pour in the broth, add the allspice, and simmer until everything is nearly dissolved, 10 to 15 minutes. Fish out and discard the allspice.
5. Pureé the soup in batches in a blender or food processor, making sure to leave the texture slightly coarse.
6. Return the soup to the pot, heat to a boil, and stir in the cream. Let it come to a boil again, add the salt and a grinding of pepper, and taste for seasoning; if it seems too bland, squeeze in a little lemon juice. If it is too thick for your taste, thin it with some hot water.
7. Serve garnished with the reserved bacon, apple, and onion. I like a scattering of carraway seed as well.
YIELD: 8 to 9 cups
This soup could be renamed "Fall in a Bowl". Rich, sweet and savory in good balance, warmly satisfying. It would certainly hold up to the addition of a nice bit of Italian sausage or Chorizo if you wanted to serve it as an entreé. I did add in a bit of lemon juice for an acidic note as suggested, and I am thinking a ploosh of basalmic vinegar or sherry vinegar either one would also serve.

Here is the recipe as run without photos in case you'd like a printable copy. I pretty much only divided everything in half with wonderful results. I did not reserve apple or onion for garnish as I was only making a half batch. I tossed my allspice berries in a little yellow bouquet garni thing-ama-jigger as you see in the photos because if I missed one you can guarantee Hub would get it and somehow that would mean Dub is a Big Loser. Even if he didn't care.

I used two Honeycrisp apples which wouldn't qualify as "tart", but the soup was delicious nonetheless. I believe this is a bit like cooking with wine. I always read you should not cook with a wine you would not drink. I felt the same about the apples here. I had organic honeycrisps on hand, I find them to epitomize for me what I like about apples, so I used them in this soup. You fix this and want to be a tarty purist, you go ahead. I pinky swear not to criticize.I also offered a bit of wild caught cod that I lightly coated with a fresh herb and pulverized stuffing crumb mixture and baked at 350 for around 25 minutes. Drizzled a bit of butter on top and hey presto - we had quite a feast for our dinner.

Were these the precise dishes I had offered as dinner options on the "Night Nothing Sounded Good"?. Yes, yes they were. Did the Hub enjoy them last night for dinner? Yes, yes he did. Do I feel at all smug about that? Really, no. If I had managed to avoid pointing out to him (ahem! twice!) that these were precisely the options he had shunted aside in favor of take-out I would feel smugly justified. As it is, I am trying to figure out how it is I can ask him what he wants for dinner and then be annoyed when he answers me honestly.

Onward! Do try this soup - either before or after engaging in your own version of a "what's for dinner" script. Apple-Onion Cream Soup is easy to fix, delicious, and a gentle reminder of everything there is to love about this time of year.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Clod - it's what's for dinner!

Hmmm - I guess I can see why the Cattleman's Beef Board didn't try that out as an advertising campaign. Just doesn't have quite the right ring to it, wouldn't you agree?

Our dinner saga last night all started with a little roast I picked up at Wheatsville.

A Niman clod (boneless shoulder) roast. "Not a very appetizing name" I thought to myself. But I am pretty sure if the Niman folks offered to sell me my own car floor mats I'd at least give it a try.

Online recipe investigating led me to all sorts of ideas, but they all called for cooking times taking longer than I wanted to wait for dinner. Most techniques suggested some sort of browning the outside followed by a couple of hours of heating the inside. One recipe, offered in the store by assistant Wheatie Meatie Mark M., was to throw some dressing on the roast, wrap it in foil and bake it at 350 degrees for approximately 30 minutes per pound. That sounded a bit different, so I decided to give it a whirl.

This roastina was about 1 1/2 pounds so 45 minutes ought to do the trick. I pulled out a current favorite of ours, the locally produced Mother's Cashew-Tamari dressing, glopped some on, wrapped the roast in foil, and threw it into the oven along with a halved, olive oil drizzled Delicata squash, cut side down, for a one sheet pan yields two dishes for dinner type deal. Not quite a one-dish wonder, but close enough.

Sidebar: It might seem counter-intuitive if not sacrilegious to use this most popular dressing sold by Mother's Cafe and Garden,one of Austin's favorite venerable Veggie restaurants, as a marinade for meat, but I promise you it is a match made in heaven. The Mother's folk even suggest that use on the label, and selling that dressing was one of the ways Mother's made it through the dark days of rebuilding after their Duval location burned in March of '07.If you are a carnivore at all, I suggest you give it a whirl yourself. Mother's Cashew-Tamari plus cruelty-free protein equals happy eaters. Guaranteed. Back to our Clod Saga.

Dressed, foiled, baked in the oven for 45 minutes. Check, check, and double-check! However, when I pulled the roastetta out, it was not quiiiiiiiite done enough. I thought back to all the recipes I did not try, and decided to pull an opposite - throw the roastina into a hot cast iron skillet with some sliced onions, and simultaneously put a nice seared coat on the meat while I pulled the interior temperature and doneness up a bit.

After about 3-4 minutes on either side the roast had developed a great sear, the onions were nicely caramelized, the kitchen had filled with a wonderful aroma and I was seriously hungry.

I cut the roastetta in half and served it with the delicata, now cradling its own little pool of butter with a sprinkling of freshly ground nutmeg, freshly ground black pepper, and a leetle bit of brown sugar. I sliced up some local 'maters, sliced up some grainy great bread (YES I buttered it - what's your point?) and that was dinner last night.I won't lie. This photo doesn't do it justice. My hands may have been trembling slightly in anticipation and it is possible I got drool on the lens.

It was good. Very good. You might wonder how it could miss seeing as the plate was sorta swimming in meaty juices and butter. Could that be healthy? I maintain that when we are eating beef that has been sustainably raised and healthily fed, including all organic veggies and using amazing local butter like that from Remember When Dairy, that we are OK with the fat we are getting.You know that all fat is not created equal. When we have butter and meat fat in our diets (balanced by fiber like in the grainy bread and delicata squash last night) we actually eat less overall than if I was trying to foist off some flavorless corn fed steroid/antibiotic riddled pseudo-meat in a fat free facsimile of a meal. So I am careful sourcing our fats and veggies (thank you Wheatsville!) and optimistic it does make all the difference.How about you? You get what I am saying, yeah? Did you ever try to eliminate fat(s) from your diet only to find yourself eating more and enjoying it less? Fess up! You know who you are.

Friday, October 24, 2008

It all comes back to me now

We have been empty nest in this house for a while.  If you aren't familiar with the term, "empty nest" refers to a household where the children have grown up and left home to have their own independent lives.  

We were totally empty nested for quite a run there.  Our two great kids have grown up and moved out (which we are all mutually happy about) and after a period when we'd gone through what was essentially an animal hospice phase where we found our lives dominated by the demands and peculiarities of ancient dogs and then cats, even our menagerie of family pets had all gone to that great boarding kennel in the sky .  

Finally, it was my husband and me.  Alone again, naturally.

Until last weekend that is when we were adopted by an abandoned kitten.This little sweetheart is a total delight except for the parts where she is determined to prove she has the sharpest claws and the strongest will in the universe and also the bit about not seeming to want to use a cat litter box.

It is clear she finds the litter uninteresting especially when compared to a lovely garden bed. Once out and about it is no worry for her about that small broccoli plant or the cilantro sprouting.  She is generously willing to overlook such nuisances and simply digs her way past them in her willingness to provide some very fresh fertilizer.

So now besides keeping an eagle eye out for any potential furniture shredding, I am also trying to gently herd this small in stature but large in spirit critter away from those plants that will want to shrivel and die when exposed to fresh cat poop.  

All by way of saying that I am suddenly remembering what it is like to have that dinner time crunch when it is suddenly half past meal time, at least one other person is justifiably expecting something reasonable to eat in a medium to short time frame and yet there are unmet kitten demands  requiring a certain amount of attention.

So I want to take a moment to salute all of you out there who are scrambling night to night to get something nutritious, much less delicious on the table while simultaneously attending to the needs of multiple others in the household.  

One dish wonders are a great help in such a situation but I am remembering my husband doesn't really like casseroles.  Never has.  
We may be eating a lot of sandwiches for a while.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A funny thing happened this past weekend...

We were all set to meet friends at this great house in Fredericksburg we rent out once a year.
View from the house
It is fairly isolated, up on a hill with a great view, has a fabulous kitchen and is for us yet strategically close to the places we like to hit in the 'Burg.I'd spent the morning of the day we were to leave town making various goodies to take along. More on that in a moment.

Our friends have family in the area and so are more familiar with certain go-to spots, like a great breakfast buffet (Andy's), the hot place to get fresh tortillas (Hilda's)and we are the ones with the longer term CenTex gardening chops so we lead the way to Wildseed Farms where the butterflies were swarming and beetles were, well, ahem!,and new this year, a leisurely tour of the Herb Farm. Whenever I travel it is never a matter of "did I forget something" but always a question of "what did I forget?".

This year, I made eggplant butterand a batch of bread pudding for dessert. The eggplant butter I remembered but the pudding I accidentally left at home. That was karmic as my friend left her iced pumpkin bars at home as well. Fortunately I did not forget the steaks or the tilapia for our Friday/Saturday night dinners and she did not forget the bucket of Margaritas. Some things are clearly more important than others.

All that said, we were off to a bit of a weird start as one thing led to another and my hub and I were there in the house by our lonesomes for a couple of hours before our friends actually arrived. After getting unpacked and settled in, he retired for a nap and I settled in with a book. It wasn't more than 5 minutes before my reading was interrupted by the plaintive mewing of a very small cat outside a screened door.I answered (I have spoken fluent cat since early childhood) and we held quite the conversation. I approached the screen door triggering hissing and backing away. At least partly feral, this kitten was clearly torn between wanting food and companionship and her strong instinct to stay away from what life had taught her were potentially dangerous human interactions.

Trigger major "Awwwwww, kitty!" reflex.

Folks arrived, the kitten disappeared, and that should have been that. But it wasn't.Unbeknownst to me, my weekend companions were not only who they appeared to be on the surface, but were also channeling manifestations of the implacable Buddha, Snow White, and St. Francis of Assisi.

This meant I found myself in the aisles of a large store some several hours later, being "educated" about the best cat toy, the proper pet carrier, commercial cat food, and tossing around terms such as "operant conditioning".

Fast forward a few more days and we apparently have ourselves a new kitten here at the Agrodolce house. Or more accurately, she (and we think she is a she) has us. She is mostly staying outdoors overnight, but is gradually trusting us enough to spend more and more time indoors despite our noisy blustering around. She has totally savaged her toy,
RIP kitty toy
is exploring more adventurously, jumps up on our table and kitchen counters persistently, and has pooped at least once on the rug. In terms of kitty adoption protocols, I think that means we are hers.

It has been about 18 months since the death of our last cat, the sweet ancient Tigger. Tigger ruled our roost for around 21 years. Hers was a long and happy reign.This unanticipated return to being a catted people means many things, one of which being I won't have as much free time to blog for a while. I will be spending time with the cat, Bijou, holding, petting, feeding, playing and talking with her in order to retool what was obviously a rocky start to her cat/human interactions.
My new editor
As these things go, if I am successful, she will begin to mostly ignore me soon enough and I will be back with more frequent updates. Hopefully, a bit of an absence will find both you and I enjoying the prospect of regular posts enhanced. Until then!!
Meow for now! 

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Now They're Working...

There's an old joke I can't quite remember - maybe you know the one. First comes the build up (that's the part I can't recall) and then the wife is telling her husband, referring to their windshield wipers, "Now they're working"......."Now they're not!!".

That's the way our weather has been so far in October. We'd wake up to delightfully cool mornings, but be toasting again by mid afternoon as the mercury crept up into the high 80s and low 90s. Again. And again.

One night I'd have to get up and close the windows because it was getting too chilly in the house.

The next night we'd be running the air conditioner because the humidity had returned even though it wouldn't rain (dammit!) and it was too cloying to sleep even with the ceiling fan going at top speed.

Adding to my autumnal angst I kept reading other folks who live in cooler climes posts about how there is a real snap in the air, they have loads of local wonderful apples at the markets, they are tired of apple pie, they are roasting and stewing and braising it up all over the place, blah blah blah.

I had sure enough planted various cold weather vegetables in our garden over the past few weeks. I fretted: where was the cold weather to make any sense out of doing so?Finally we had a desperately needed inch and a half of rain yesterday and much cooler temperatures to go along with it. I dared allow myself to hope. Could Fall temperatures really be here to stay?

Whether or not this is another Faux Fall teaser, I figured to take advantage of the cool afternoon at hand and make something similar to the recipes I've been drooling over at Gastronome, bitchincamero, and elsewhere. Like me these bloggers are similarly stuck in warm weather reality while entertaining cold weather culinary dreams.

I wanted to incorporate some of what I had on hand in order to continue my generalized Fall Pantry Challenge and came up with the following recipe which is my antidote to the Debate Doldrums. I am dubbing this one -
2 lbs (approx) Niman Ranch country style pork ribs
1/2 cup salt/peppered AP flour
2 carrots, grated
1 small onion finely chopped
3 clove garlic finely minced
1 jalapeño, seeded, fine chopped
1 roasted red pepper (1/2 jar), drained and rough chopped
1 bay leaf
1 baby eggplant (approx 3/4 cup) diced
1 28 oz can whole tomatoes, peeled, with juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
rendered pork fat
1 cup red wine
1 cup water (or low salt chicken broth)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Heat dutch oven on stove top over medium heat.
Cut pork into 1/2 inch cubes, putting fat chunks into heated dutch oven to render.
Toss pork cubes with seasoned AP flour lightly.
When fat begins to sizzle, add olive oil to dutch oven.
Brown pork cubes in batches to avoid crowding, about 5 minutes each on two sides to develop brown crust.
Remove meat from dutch oven and reserve.
Add carrot, onion, jalapeño, garlic and deglaze pan, stirring with wooden spoon until onion begins to turn translucent, 3-5 minutes. Add red pepper and eggplant, stirring, for additional two minutes.
Put meat back into pan. Add bay leaf. Add tomatoes, wine and enough water to cover.Bring back to a boil, cover, and put into preheated oven for 2 or more hours. Check at 2 hours to determine if additional liquid needs to be added, adjust seasoning and shred meat. Once meat is fork tender you may serve, or hold in a warm oven as needed. This may be served over noodles as a ragout, or may be combined with rice or potatoes to stretch it a bit.
Serves 4
Enjoy with chewy bread, the rest of your red wine, and a nice green salad.

Recipe notes: I used water but you could use stock, especially if you are using more typical commercially raised pork that has most of the flavor bred out of it. In that case you could start with 2-3 slices of bacon rough chopped in the pan to add flavor and pork fat to your dish.

Newby cooks - if you start to smell your dish noticeably about 90 minutes in? Check to assure the liquid has not boiled too far down and add more water or stock as needed. You might be smelling the sauce caramelizing and potentially burning onto the side and bottom of your pan.

The eggplant is a last harvest from our garden before I pulled it out for the year. It was totally superfluous and disappeared into the sauce. Aside from the essentials of garlic, onion and tomato, you can throw in what you have on hand. If you don't have a jalapeño, throw in a poblano or some pepper flakes or a can of green chiles. Once you've slow cooked it all for a couple of hours, everything joins forces to prepare a rich sauce without identifiable individual flavors really standing out.For an appropriately autumnal salad last night I harvested arugula and mustard from seed sown 9/9 making me feel like a real suburban farmer gal. I combined that with half a cut up crisp organic Jonagold apple from Wheatsville, some roasted Texas pecans, crumbled Cotija cheese and a vinaigrette. Yum.That and a slice of artisanal whole grain bread with a little Remember When dairy butter on top and we were happy campers for our debate watching last night.

Postscript: The recipe delivered. The candidates? Well. Nobody punched anybody or cursed (you know who I mean and you know why I secretly hoped for that drama). It was actually kind of....boring.
Which I keep reading is a good thing. So now all we have to do around here is wait until Octpber 20th, cast our early votes, and hold our collective breath until the results are announced. Then clarified. Potentially challenged, then announced again.

I will believe we have a new president when I am watching the inaugural hooraw. Which I mostly won't. Especially if it looks like we will be facing another 4 years of angry white men acting out their Daddy issues on an international scale and dragging all the rest of us along with them. If that does happen, expect to see a multitude of strong adult beverage recipes featured here.

Hunker down boys and girls - it is going to be a long 20 days.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Laissez Les Wonton Roulez

I have nobody but myself to blame. I had nearly all the ingredients (short the bok choy and pork sausage) on hand to make Jaden Hair's Steamy Kitchen entry, Wonton Soup, for the Whole Foods Budget Recipe Challenge. I've had the soup in my menu plans for nearly two weeks now and I just kept putting it off.

Why? I could tell by the ingredients list I would like it. My husband, too. What was the deal with this procrastination?

I finally decided wonton folding is something I feel I do reasonably well, but true confession time, I am sloooooooooow at it.

As much as I enjoy wonton noodles fried and boiled into soups I don't make the recipes featuring them very often because it takes me forever to get them ready. For. Eh. Ver. As much as I wanted to try this recipe I found excuse after excuse to keep moving it off until "tomorrow".

Wheatsville Coop called my bluff. Not only did they have the most adorable organic baby bok choy but also the very fresh locally produced Richardson pork sausage on my regular Wednesday shopping trip. That fixed that. It was time.

Knowing I would be standing at my counter for an hour laboriously stuffing and folding wonton packages of porky goodness, I saved both time and energy for the uncomplicated but slow-for-me dinner prep yesterday. We had the soup last night for dinner with the only tweak from Jaden's recipe consisting of my throwing in some bean sprouts along with the bok choy for fun.

As always when I finally do get around to making anything with wonton in it I was kicking myself for waiting so long. This recipe is solid gold. Time to fold aside it is simple and it tasted good good good.

Just in case you didn't vote or view the challenge as posted on previously, to follow is the recipe off the Whole Foods site.
Wonton Noodle Soup
This recipe was submitted by Jaden Hair of Steamy Kitchen. Jaden dishes up the following advice for this popular Chinese one-dish meal: "Get your kids in the kitchen and have them help you fold wontons. Freeze uncooked wontons: Freeze in one layer on plate, when frozen gather them up and store in freezer bag and plop them into boiling broth while still frozen to make a super-quick meal."

1. 1/2 pound ground pork
2. 2 stalks scallion, finely minced
3. 1 tablespoon soy sauce
4. 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
5. 1 teaspoon cornstarch
6. 1/4 teaspoon sugar
7. 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
8. 1/2 pound wonton wrappers, at room temperature, covered with a damp towel
9. 1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1/4 cup cool water (this makes a cornstarch slurry)
10. 2 quarts low-sodium chicken broth
11. 8 ounces dried wonton noodles (or thin, egg noodles)
12. 1/2 pound bok choy, leaves separated and washed well
13. 1 teaspoon sesame oil

Serves 4. $2.98 per serving*

Note on wonton wrappers: If using frozen wrappers, defrost overnight in the refrigerator or on the counter for 40 minutes. Once thawed, keep opened wrappers under a damp paper towel. Like freshly made pasta dough, they dry out easily, especially the edges.

In a large bowl, combine the pork, scallion, soy sauce, rice vinegar, cornstarch, sugar and sesame oil. Mix well.

Put a scant teaspoon of filling in the middle of a wonton wrapper, and brush cornstarch slurry on all edges. Fold over to form a triangle, press to secure edges, encasing the filling. Brush cornstarch slurry on one tip of the triangle. Bring two corners together and press to secure (though my kids often just leave them as triangles.) Place on clean, dry plate in one layer and cover loosely with plastic wrap to prevent drying. Repeat with remaining.

In a large stockpot, add all but 2 cups of the broth and bring to a boil. The 2 cups of reserved broth should be room temperature or just slightly chilled. Turn the heat to medium-high and add the wontons. Bring pot back to a gentle boil.

When it reaches a boil, add 1 cup of the reserved broth. Bring back to a boil and again, add the remaining 1 cup of reserved broth.

Keep the heat on the pot on (you still need to cook the noodles and bok choy) while using a spider or sieve to scoop up the wontons and distribute amongst the bowls. Cook the noodles in the pot according to the package instructions. Add the bok choy to the pot during last minute of cooking noodles and let simmer, until cooked through. Ladle broth, noodles and bok choy to bowls. Serve with chili garlic sauce if desired.

Per serving (about 25oz/713g-wt.): 580 calories (170 from fat), 19g total fat, 5g saturated fat, 105mg cholesterol, 1040mg sodium, 78g total carbohydrate (4g dietary fiber, 5g sugar), 27g protein
Today we will have the leftovers. After dinner the other night I took the remaining wonton out of the broth anticipating a need for reheating. I will add in fresh bok choy, fresh bean sprouts, and a few more noodles since I scooped all of them out for our dinner bowls last night. To change it up just slightly I am also adding in some sliced organic shitake mushrooms, also from Wheatsville (thank you Bryan and Johnny!).

My husband is not a fan of eating leftovers for lunch when we just had them for dinner the night before. He doesn't absolutely refuse leftovers - don't get me wrong - but he likes to pace himself food wise and change things up. Me - I am a food faddist and can eat the same thing over (and over and over). Today we had the wonton soup for lunch and although my hub reminded me his preference is to not eat for lunch what he just had for dinner? He finished his bowl just like I did. This soup is THAT good.

Try this out. Seriously. Don't stall because you are reluctant to take on the wonton folding. No matter how long it takes? Worth it! Definitely worth it.

That hint about doing the wonton ahead and freezing them is a great idea. Also getting your children to stuff and fold the wonton for you would be a charming way to avoid that hour standing solo at your kitchen counter. Unfortunately my kids are too grown and too gone and yes, too cynical as well, to think that making wonton for Mom would be a fun way to spend an hour. If your kids are still at home and gullible, er, willing helpers? Get them involved. Have fun and get dinner prepped all at the same time.

PS - Nobody seems to have won either the Budget Recipe Challenge or the gift certificates to Whole Foods. They say "soon". As stoked as I previously was at the idea of getting free groceries from Whole Paycheck, I have to admit, now I am just happy to have this recipe in the repertoire.Jaden (who I am calling by her first name because I have emailed her at least twice which makes us practically best friends - yeah?) has a cookbook slated for release next Fall. If the Won Ton Soup recipe is an indicator, I will probably break my general rule of "no buying cookbooks as long as I have internet access" and make an exception in her case.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

If you've got the money, honey,

I've got the Times.
The New York Times Magazine is devoted to food this weekend, including an article "Farmer in Chief" by none other than Michael Pollan. Also featured, Mark Bittman, chef Kenny Shopsin, and an interactive feature peeking inside the refrigerators of five "food leaders".

One critic felt the magazine was more about food politics than a celebration of all things edible, but this close to the election, maybe that is par for the course. My recommendation? Order takeout, pull up a screen and enjoy!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Kitchen Crush

I was talking with my son today about food (what else?) and I admitted to him I have developed something of a Kitchen Crush lately for Acini di pepe, those bitsy dots, one of the teensiest of pastas routinely available in the places I shop.

Once incorporated into a dish, Acini di pepe is smaller than orzo, yet to me it has a rice-like quality and consistency that I find nearly irresistable. It cooks up quickly, it can be persuaded to shrug off some of its outer layer to slip into a creamy sauce a la risoto, and yet while doing so is just thick enough to retain that bit of resistance to the tooth in the center that makes it just right.Acini de pepe is neat in situations where I too often am not. There are no loose ends, no strands flipping around, flinging bits of sauce or cheese or oil where they don't belong. Add to that the way it automatically adjusts, by virtue of it's teensiness, to whatever proportion of pasta to everything else in the dish you desire in any single bite, and there you have it. Pretty near the perfect pasta.When I saw this recipe recently on Serious Eats calling for orzo, I knew I had on hand an opportunity to substitute in my infatuation pasta and make this dish my own.What I give you to follow is a third iteration of a Giada de Larentiis recipe, taken from the kid-friendly section of "Giada's Kitchen" (typically my favorite section of a cookbook for various reasons).

Acini de pepe with sausage, peppers and tomatoes
makes 2-3 servings

1 1/2 cup organic chicken broth
1 1/2 cup water
3/4 cup Acini de pepe
1 tablespoon organic olive oil
8 ounces Richardson's uncased pork sausage
1 teaspoon Italian Seasoning
1 garlic clove minced
1 jarred roasted red bell pepper, rough chopped
1/2 can fire roasted tomatoes, rough chopped
1/2 cup sliced morel mushrooms (or portobello)
salt, freshly ground black pepper and red pepper flakes to taste (red pepper is optional)
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

In a large saucepan bring the water and broth to a boil over high heat. Add the acini de pepe and cook approximately 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the pasta cooks, heat the oil in a large skillet and add the pork sausage and Italian seasoning. Sauté until cooked through and add the garlic. Cook a minute more and add the bell pepper, tomatoes, and red pepper flakes if using. Finally, add the mushrooms just before adding the pasta.

Check the pasta at 8 minutes and if nearly done, ladle the desired amount of pasta, using a slotted spoon, into the skillet with the sausage and other ingredients, stirring to mix well. Cook together an additional 1-2 minutes until the pasta is to your liking and the ingredients are well combined. Add broth/water from the pasta pan if the skillet is too dry.

Season to taste with salt and pepper and divide into 2-3 bowls with parmesan on top.Serve with foccaccia topped with olive oil and more parmesan.We had this for dinner last night and it was really really satisfying. Sigh....really....

Have you ever developed a kitchen crush on an ingredient or a gadget that had you searching for excuses to use it? Fess up!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Signs of the Times?

I will admit to you I am confused by a lot of the reactions I am noting to the current financial mess we are in.  I know a few educated/professional types who are reasonably worried about losing their retirement funds.  We are worried at our house, too.  Difference is, they seem to feel strongly that less regulation is somehow going to save the day.

Really?  The unregulated, nobody minds the store mess we are in now isn't bad enough?  

Taking furniture to the Goodwill store on South Lamar today I spotted a billboard that had originally been whited out - in between ad campaigns - to which a free lance editorialist had taken a paint can and written out a complaint noting the injustice of a $700 Billion bailout for Wall Street when others are trying to get by on $7.00/hour.  

I found myself wondering -  what (if anything) will South Lamar drivers find offensive when they see that? The truth behind the complaint or the fact that the billboard was defaced by graffiti?

I was confused again by the comments section on an article in the Times noting chef Tom Colicchio's plans to have a year long series of every other Tuesday dinners that would be limited to 32 diners, booking their reservations 6 weeks ahead, all paying $150 minimum in advance to hold that reservation (more depending upon the menu which would not be released in advance).  The chef had noted the original name for the enterprise, Tom: Tuesday Dinner, was up for grabs if a better name was suggested.  

A lot of folks apparently felt the entire proposal was fairly tone deaf in light of the current economic crisis.  

Some of the names suggested reflected that:
Let Them Eat Bailout
The Emperor's New Clothes

Other calmer heads noted that Colicchio's various restaurants in NYC cater to every price point.  And, nobody is forcing anybody to make a reservation anywhere.

It fascinated me that, as the recognition of the ever widening gap between the haves and the have-nots sinks in, the foodies were venting their spleen on a chef who, love him or hate him, worked diligently for years to get where he is.  

I certainly haven't seen that much ink spilled in comments expressing similar fury over the CEOs who waltzed away from trashed corporations with profits in their pockets.  If Colicchio's food is not up to par, his reputation and his bottom line will certainly suffer.  Can we say the same about those "Masters of the Universe" hedge fund managers who apparently safely removed their money before the bottom fell out of the market?  Where's the anger towards them?
Why would we turn on a working stiff like Colicchio (albeit yes, a very successful one) and hold his success against him and not against those financial wheeler dealers and complicit politicians who cooked up this financial mess we find ourselves in?

I really don't get it.  Maybe they ate something that didn't agree with them?  

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

It's heeeerrrreeeee

October 1st. Have Dinner Out Tonight. Go Texan, Eat Local, AND Benefit Your Local Foodbank.

Check here for a list and be sure to reach for the starreds - those are the sites contributing to the food bank. If you simply can't make it tonight, then consider a direct donation to the Capital Area Food Bank. Helping assure others are not going hungry will improve your appetite.